When Steve Ruschmeier of Slidell turned his boat’s ignition key on Friday, May 14, he only had modest expectations; a great day on the water in one of Louisiana’s most prolific bass fisheries, Toledo Bend. If things turned out better than expected, he might cash a check in the Big Bass Splash tournament he had entered so he could cover the trip’s expenses.
At 7:45 a.m. everything changed. Fishing in a “community hole” that a friend suggested, he tossed his favorite blue soft-plastic lizard in an area where he saw a big bass jump the day before. The strike nearly knocked the rod out of his hands, and it bent violently as the fish went deep, right under the boat.
“This can’t be a bass,” Ruschmeier shouted to a friend who was sharing his boat. “But get the net just in case.”
The fish stayed deep, and after several trips around the boat, trolling motor and power pole, his partner slipped the net under it. When Ruschmeier finally saw the fish, his jaw dropped and opened wider than the 9.87-pound largemouth he had just landed.
“I was in shock; I knew it was between 8 and 10 pounds.” he said. “I knew I had a tournament contender, so I rushed to the weigh-in station to get it recorded.”
Ruschmeier caught this bass in the opening 2 hours of a 3-day tournament, so he had to wait two excruciating days to see if the weight would hold up.
“I only got two hours of sleep on Friday night after I collapsed from exhaustion,” he confessed.
In memory of a friend
The days leading up to the tournament were difficult. Just two days before, Ruschmeier’s boss, a close friend, lost his battle with cancer.
“I was feeling very sad, but I knew (he) would have wanted me to fish the tournament, so I decided to dedicate the tournament to his memory,” he said.
While prefishing on the day before the tournament, Ruschmeier saw a bass jump that he estimated to be at least 8 pounds.
“I knew (he) was trying to tell me something, so the next morning I started in that exact place, but the bite was not on, so I moved,” he said. “A little later, something told me to go back, and on my fifth cast, I hooked up with the tournament winner. I guess (he) was right after all!”
As the tournament progressed, many nice bass were weighed in, but all fell short of Ruschmeier’s lunker. In the final hours of the tournament, Ruschmeier got nervous.
“I heard that there was a guy who had one in his boat over 9 pounds and was waiting for the ‘bonus’ hour to weigh it in,” he said. “Right before the scales closed, he showed up with a fish that weighed 9.71 pounds — just .16 of a pound short of mine.”
With that settled, Ruschmeier jumped into his new Triton 19 TRX bass boat and Ram 1500 Truck and got his check for $11,000. Out of a total purse of more than $100,000, he had hit the jackpot.
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